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Coronavirus: France to ramp up COVID testing in schools in a bid to stop the UK variant

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By Euronews  with AFP
French Health Minister Olivier Veran speaks during a press conference in Paris Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran speaks during a press conference in Paris Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.   -   Copyright  Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP

Up to a million French children and teachers are to be tested for COVID-19 each month to curb the spread of the British variant, the country's health minister announced on Thursday.

Children as young as six are to be tested, Olivier Véran said.

"What we know to date is that the virus appears to be more contagious in children. That's what we're seeing in England. Without having more serious cases, at least proportionally," he added.

The government is "closely" monitoring the variant — which is believed to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible — and decide whether to close schools "if the situation was to change and we had an increase in the share of the variant," Véran went on.

The minister stressed that the French Pediatric Society is, for now, calling for schools to remain open. Last week, Prime Minister Jean Castex also said that "the sanitary situation would have to be very serious to close schools" because the consequences are "absolutely dramatic".

England is currently under a third national lockdown due to the emergence last month of the variant, which has led to a sharp rise in infections and deaths. On Wednesday, the UK recorded its highest one-day death toll since the beginning of the pandemic with more than 1,500 fatalities. Schools in areas where the epidemiological situation is particularly severe have been closed.

Véran made that announcement hours before he is to hold a press conference with Castex, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer and Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot.

They are expected to unveil new measures to curb the spread of the deadly virus including a possible extension of the country-wide nighttime curfew.

Cultural venues will also be looking for Bachelot to give them an insight as to when they might be able to reopen or to unveil new measures to support them.

Museums, cinemas, theatres have been closed since the country started its second national lockdown on October 31 and were not allowed to reopen in the run-up to Christmas, unlike other non-essential shops.

Bars and restaurants have also had to keep their doors closed and were told last week that they might only be able to welcome customers from mid-February "at the earliest".